chapter  12
18 Pages

At Home Abroad

The Four Musketeers was to be presented in 1967 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in Covent Garden and would star Harry Secombe. It was a send-up of the Dumas novel, The Three Musketeers. Harry Secombe possessed a glorious tenor voice and was a favorite entertainer among London theater-goers. The popular forties song-hit, “Mr. Five by Five” aptly described this affable artist ... “He’s five feet tall and he’s five feet wide.” Harry played the romantic D’Artagnan and cut quite an unusual figure. The cast was filled with members from the popular “Carry On” comedy film series. Sean Kenny had designed the set, and it was a marvel of stage architecture with massive motorized units that were propelled about the stage by hidden drivers. Large full-stage stair units rolled forward. Arched colonnades descended from the flies and were linked by lowered bridge units. The density of the colonnades made the staging of tableaus grouped on the upstage stairs a nightmare. No matter where you placed people they would be blocked from view in some part of the house by the thickness of the architecture. The stage traps opened to reveal the steaming mineral baths of Baden-Baden. The costumes had generous silhouettes to balance the massive structures, and the cast was large with a full complement of dancing ensemble, singing chorus, and show girls. We also had four stunt men who would drop from the towers in the sword fight sequences, cushioning their landing by falling into the crunch of corrugated cardboard boxes. Harry rode a broad-backed mare in one sequence and the king and queen arrived in a pony-drawn trap in another. The cardinal stroked a Persian cat and played chess with the king. The game stretched across a mammoth board, and the chessmen were each a fistful to handle. A specialist in sword fighting was brought in, and I began to study this martial art in preparation for the staging of combat sequences.